Search result multiplicity is not a new phenomenon, but recent advancements will guarantee the world of search and marketing will be changing forever. Before you attend this week’s optimization and best practices sessions, hear from industry gurus about how search, marketing and information seeking is changing the industry that follows the search. Our ongoing series on universal search will include research data available only at SES.
I almost didn’t go to this, and in fact showed up a bit late, but in the middle of a day of sort of uninspiring sessions, this genuine conversation in panel format ended up making me glad I went.
As I walked in, comScore’s James Lamberti was discussing a very interesting graph they’d built. Their research into universal search results showed a direct correlation between type of search result and clickthrough rate. In their model, if “no universal results” provided a 100% clickthrough rate, including video results showed a slight decrease to (I think) 98%. As more types of results came into play (images, maps, and so on), the clickthrough rate continued dropping, and result sets including “news” or “stock quotes” were showing less than 50% clickthrough.
Predictably, the Google rep-du-jour (Jack Menzel) then got raked over the coals for the rest of the session and spent a lot of time denying that they’d changed their business model. If they were intentionally providing information which did not lead people to click off the page, aren’t they then becoming a portal site? How are they going to monetize this, and how will that affect the downstream sites ability to monetize themselves?
Lamberti commented that the future value in search results will be not in the click, but in what is being displayed in the results. If people are clicking less, then it’s all the more important to be showing them something of value in the window of opportunity you have. The follow on question I have is a practical one: how do you measure this? Right now, universal results are showing for a small percentage of search traffic, but I have no idea if my sites are showing as part of an integrated SERP or not. I can’t get impression data for organic results, now, can I? No, I cannot.
The other Big Issue that put Jack on the hotseat was the fact that Google owns space in many of the channels now listing in the universal search results, and it’s hard to believe that there is no bias. YouTube has the most traffic and the most videos, but does that mean they have the best video for a particular result set? No. But the perception is that YouTube gets preference because Google owns it. Is it true? Jack insisted not.
Of course, with a G-man on the stage, the conversation was bound to focus there, but clearly Yahoo! and Ask and everyone else are taking their result sets in this direction as well, and in the theoretical or “big picture” view, the questions directed at Jack are going to be relevant to all. The final takeaway comments from the panelists were worth summing up, as they really seemed to encapsulate some very key bits of the future of search:
- Lyndsay Menzies, Managing Director of Big Mouth Media thinks it is important to understand how the searchers of today are different people. There is a whole generation growing up with YouTube and Flickr and social networks and they are interacting with the web in new ways, and their expectations are different than Google’s original “ten blue links.”
- Lamberti agreed, opining that this is the way search has to go, because it’s what the consumer wants.
- Jack Menzel simply said Google were not changing their business model at all: they are continuing to try presenting the best, relevant content on the web.Universal search is just reflecting the fact that there are more images, there is more video and images and maps and etc. available.
- Finally, John Battelle of Federated Media commented that we’re at a unique turning point, paralleling it to the shift from DOS to Windows. The difference being, instead of 200 developers in Redmond creating something in a vacuum, Google is engaging their users and advertisers in a conversation, and this is just one step along a continuum of changes leading to an interface and experience we don’t yet know.
All in all, quite a provoking conversation, one which offered no solutions or tips and tricks, but addressed some hard questions and I think left everyone in the room with a lot to consider.